No one has a perfect life. Everyone has conflicts that they must face
sooner or later. The ways in which people deal with these personal conflicts
can differ as much as the people themselves. Some insist on ignoring the
problem as long as possible, while some attack the problem to get it out of the
way. Willy Lowman’s technique in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman,
leads to very severe consequences. Willy never really does anything to help the
situation, he just escapes into the past, whether intentionally or not, to
happier times were problems were scarce. He uses this escape as if it were a
narcotic, and as the play progresses, the reader learns that it can be a
dangerous drug, because of it’s addictiveness and it’s deadliness.
The first time Willy is seen lapsing off into the past is when he
encounters Biff after arriving home. The conversation between Willy and Linda
reflects Willy’s disappointment in Biff and what he has become, which is, for
the most part, a bum. After failing to deal adequately with his feelings, he
escapes into a time when things were better for his family. It is not uncommon
for one to think of better times at low points in their life in order to cheer
themselves up so that they are able to deal with the problems they encounter,
but Willy Lowman takes it one step further. His refusal to accept reality is so
strong that in his mind he is transported back in time to relive one of the
happier days of his life. It was a time when no one argued, Willy and Linda were
younger, the financial situation was less of a burden, and Biff and Happy
enthusiastically welcomed their father back home from a long road trip. Willy’s
need for the “drug” is satiated and he is reassured that everything will turn
out okay, and the family will soon be as happy as it was in the good old days.
The next flashback occurs during a discussion between Willy and Linda.
Willy is depressed about his inability to make enough money to support his
family, his looks, his personality and the success of his friend and neighbor,
Charley. “My God if business doesn’t pick up , I don’t know what I’m gonna do!”
(36) is the comment made by Willy after Linda figures the difference between the
family’s income and their expenses. Before Linda has a chance to offer any
words of consolation Willy blurts out “I’m Fat. I’m very–foolish to look at,
Linda” (37). In doing this he has depressed himself so much that he is visited
by a woman with whom he is having an affair. The woman’s purpose in this point
of the play is to cheer him up. She raises his spirits by telling him how funny
and loveable he is, saying “You do make me laugh….And I think you’re a
wonderful man.” (38). And when he is reassured of his attractiveness and
competence, the woman disappears, her purpose being fulfilled. Once again the
drug has come to the rescue, postponing Willy’s having to actually do something
about his problem.
The next day, when Willy is fired after initially going to ask his boss
to be relocated is when the next journey into the past occurs. The point of the
play during which this episode takes place is so dramatic that willy seeks a big
hit of the flashback drug. Such a big hit in fact, that he is transported back
to what was probably the happiest day of his life. Biff was going to play in
Ebbets field in the All-Scholastic Championship game in front of thousands of
people. Willy couldn’t be prouder of his two popular sons who at the time had
everything going for them and seemed destined to live great, important lives,
much more so than the “liked, but not well liked” boy next door, Bernard.
Willy’s dependency on the “drug” is becoming greater by the hour, at this rate,
he cannot remain sane for much longer.
Too much of anything, even a good thing, can quickly become a bad thing.
Evidence of this statement is seen during Willy’s next flashback, when the drug
he has been using for so long to avoid his problems backfires, giving him a “bad
trip”, quite possibly a side effect of overuse. This time he is brought back to
one of the most disturbing moments in his life.